Detangling wild conspiracy theories about politicians convicted of child sex crimes

I'll say this up front so that there's zero confusion: Child sex trafficking is real, it's heinous, and it's been going on for a long time. Everyone who buys or sells a child or partakes in harming a child in any way should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. There is no place in civil society for people who sexually abuse children or who profit off of the abuse of children. Full stop. No question.

But we have careened into some twisted waters in our social discourse around child sex trafficking, to the point where the real issue of is being conflated with outrageous conspiracy theories that deflect from the real work being done to save children, put innocent people in harm's way, and interfere with the integrity of our elections.

I wrote about this issue recently and was met with accusations of being paid off by powerful pedophiles (ugh, seriously?), a flood of people saying "No, you're wrong!" while offering zero evidence, and a bunch of YouTube and Facebook videos that people seem to think are credible sources. I got fake screenshots of supposed Wikileaks emails that aren't actually on Wikileaks when you search for them. I got people who only listen to fringe outlets that have no oversight or accountability claiming that my well-cited, real news sources were a part of the whole conspiracy. All of that stuff I could ignore. Whackadoodles are gonna whackadoodle no matter how many facts you throw at them.

But I also got a few people sharing a list of nearly 100 politicians and other powerful people who have been convicted of child sex crimes. That was different, because it was factual.


There have been dozens of politicians who have been convicted of sex crimes involving children, and the list itself was accurate. (One particularly viral version of the list linked the people with Ghislaine Maxwell—that part is false, but the crimes are real.) Politifact, in a fact-check of the Facebook post, even put together a Google doc with a news story corroborating each one on the list.

However, that list is not evidence of some sort of global cabal of evil, pedophilic overlords who are engaged in coordinated rituals of child sacrifice and child sex trafficking.

When you see a list of name after name and crime after crime, it's easy to think "Wow, this is insane! So any politicians and powerful people are involved in this stuff!" It looks like a huge number. You have to scroll and scroll to get through all of those names and headlines. But let's put our ability to reason to good use here.

That list —which includes around 60 politicians and 30 people adjacent to politics—includes elected officials at the local level all the way up to the federal government. And as far as I can see, based on the news stories, the convictions take place as far back as 1983. So we're talking about 60 politicians over a span of 35+ years.

Do you know how many elected officials serve in the United States at any given time? Around 520,000. And over 35+ years, the total number individuals serving in those positions would actually be double or triple that number (or more) due to turnover (different people get elected, people retire, terms run out, etc.) But let's just go with a nice, round, safely conservative 520,000.

60 out of 520,000 is 0.012%. That's twelve-thousandths of a percent.

Of course, there are people who never get caught, much less convicted. So let's say there were twice as many politician pedophile abusers as actually get caught. That would still only be 0.024%.

But let's say it's way bigger than that. Let's say that there are actually ten times more pedophile politicians than the number who have been caught. Even then, that would be 0.12% at most. Twelve-hundredths of a percent.

Considering the estimates for pedophilia (depending on what ages are included) range from 1% to 5%, it doesn't appear that politicians are any more likely than anyone in the general population to be pedophiles.

And how about those 30 who were not elected officials at all, but activists, donors, celebrities, and more? The list included people like Harvey Weinstein (who was a slimy sexual predator, but no evidence of being a pedophile), director Roman Polanski, Jared Fogle the Subway guy, radio host Ben Ward, some anti-abortion activists, a few political aides, a campaign chairman, a Christian Coalition leader, a pastor, and others.

If you take the categories those other people belong to—political aides and activists, celebrities, Christian leaders, etc. who are politically active—and add up all of the well-known people who fit those categories, what percent are these 30 people do you suppose? My guess is a tiny fraction, similar to the politicians.

There is no doubt that there are powerful people who abuse children. There is no doubt that there are famous people who abuse children. There is no doubt that there are people at every strata of society who abuse children. And though most sexual abuse is perpetrated by friends and family of the abused, there are definitely organized child trafficking operations. There are also legitimate questions about the extent to which individuals in Jeffrey Epstein's social sphere were involved with his own well-documented sexual escapades with young teenage girls.


But none of that equals a secret Satanic child sex trafficking ring involving ritual child sacrifice among America's most powerful politicians and celebrities using "pizza" as a code word for children. (And yes, I've searched the Wikileaks emails and read the pizza references. It's literally just people talking about eating pizza, like all of us do.) The idea that high-profile people with full-time jobs who live their lives with a spotlight shined on them are spending their limited spare time running underground child abuse rings and using official email channels to secretly discuss pedophilic torture is just ludicrous on its face.

Yet the conspiracy theorists say, "Connect the dots!" But that's exactly the problem. Anyone can connect disconnected dots to create whatever picture they want. That's how we ended up with constellations named after animals and mythical gods, despite not really looking anything like the things they are named after. Conspiracy theories are like constellations—loosely constructed connections, blanks filled in with imaginary lines, and shapes that require you to ignore everything that interferes with the picture you're trying to paint.

For instance, the sheer number of people who would have to be "in on" something like the Pizzagate theory makes it mind-bogglingly impossible. Let's start just with the media element. I know that the QAnon people have convinced their followers that "the media" can't be trusted, but the media is not one monolithic thing. "All mainstream media outlets are owned by four giant corporations!" I've been told. Well, no, that's not actually true. But lets pretend that it is. The nature of corporations in a capitalist system is competition, right? So those media corporations would be in competition with each other, each one vying to break big news first. If there truly were news legs to something like Pizzagate, don't you think one of them would have picked it up by now?

How about the politicians who pay investigators good money for opposition research so they can smear each other all the time over every little thing? Wouldn't those in opposition to those who are supposedly part of this Satanic child sex trafficking cult be turning them in to the authorities if there were truth to it? Why, after four years, is all the Pizzagate "evidence" still confined to internet chatrooms and random YouTube videos and Twitter posts?

And how about law enforcement? Surely after four years, and with all the evidence people claim exists, law enforcement would be taking action against these people. And yet the Washington DC Metro Police Department has called Pizzagate "a fictitious online conspiracy theory." Are they in on it too?

So people actually believe that huge numbers of politicians, celebrities, the media, corporations that own the media, and law enforcement are all part of some big web of conspiracy to traffick and hurt children? This, despite the fact that the many organizations that have been battling actual child sex trafficking for years and years have yet to endorse any of these outrageous theories?

This post by a woman who founded an organization that specializes in child welfare within the entertainment industry thoroughly addresses the vast majority of the false info floating around out there, differentiating between the nuggets of truth (which are always present in a conspiracy theory) and the many falsehoods. Politically-motivated individuals and groups are working overtime to get people sharing this garbage, so we have to counter it by spreading real, verified information far and wide as much as possible.

Child sex trafficking is an important issue, but it's not new and it's not what the Pizzagate and other theories describe. Getting attention on the issue is important, but not at the expense of truth. Kooky conspiracy theories pull vital resources and energy away from the real work being done to battle it and do real harm to people whose names get caught up in the web of it all. (Read this account by the man who owns Comet Ping Pong, the basementless pizza parlor where the Pizzagate sex trafficking ring was supposedly being run out of its basement.) This stuff is not harmless and it needs to be called out for the garbage it is.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When we think of what a Tyrannosaurus looked like, we picture a gargantuan dinosaur with a huge mouth, formidable legs and tail, and inexplicably tiny arms. When we picture how it behaved, we might imagine it stomping and roaring onto a peaceful scene, single-handedly wreaking havoc and tearing the limbs off of anything it can find with its steak-knife-like teeth like a giant killing machine.

The image is probably fairly accurate, except for one thing—there's a good chance the T. rex wouldn't have been hunting alone.

New research from a fossil-filled quarry in Utah shows that Tyrannosaurs may have been social creatures who utilized complex group hunting strategies, much like wolves do. The research team who conducted the fossil study and made the discovery include scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colby College of Maine, and James Cook University in Australia.

The idea of social Tyrannosaurs isn't entirely new—Canadian paleontologist Philip Curie floated the hypothesis 20 years ago upon the discovery of a group of T. rex skeletons who appeared to have died together—but it has been widely debated in the paleontology world. Many scientists have doubted that their relatively small brains would be capable of such complex social behavior, and the idea was ridiculed by some as sensationalized paleontology PR.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.